I ended last week's post with the term, "That's life in Montana!" Well here's a couple more examples.
Wild fluctuations in temperature over short time intervals have been the rule. I checked our weather station before retiring around 9 pm last Thursday. The outside temperature was 0 F. At 6 am the next morning the temperature was -3 F. Nothing unusual there. But my weather station charts the temperature and records daily highs and lows. It indicated that it was 44 F at 2:45 in the morning. Now that is unusual.
I was scheduled to teaching skiing at the Izaak Walton Inn over the weekend. I was searching the web for weather and road conditions for my 2 hour drive. It was -2 F at my house. and the Road Weather Information System sensor at East Glacier showed it was -6 F there and snowing. The RWIS sensor at Essex indicated 37 F and rain. Hmmmm!
I made the 90 minute drive to East Glacier and it indeed was snowing heavily. Visibility was OK but the highway was slippery snowpack and ice. The snow looked fluffy and I'll bet the temperature was still below zero.
As I continued west from East Glacier on US 2 the snow and poor road conditions continued.
Further west I began climbing a long hill near Lubec Lake. Within about 100 feet I went from zero degree air with dry snow into very warm air with wet snow falling.
Since my vehicle had been in the cold so long it acted like a condenser. The moisture in the warm air condensed and froze on my windows. I could see nothing in front, to the sides or behind me. Everything was covered in frost. I knew that there were at least two vehicles behind me and I didn't want to brake very hard fearing they'd run into me. And did I mention that the road was a sheet of ice!
I braked lightly and began to slow. At the same time I frantically tried to clear my windshield. Just as a small spot of vision appeared to the front as I ran off the road into the plow berm.
Once the rig stopped I just sat there for a minute to collect my wits. Then I tried to open the drivers side door. The door wouldn't budge. Totally amazed I found myself off the road on the left side. I was sure glad no one was coming the other direction when I drifted across the eastbound lane. That would have been really interesting.
I had no idea where the two vehicles following me had gone.
I tried to back out of the berm but I was stuck pretty good. Even with 4-wheel drive I could not move.
I crawled over to the passenger door, got out and went to the back of my rig to get my shovel. I had only dug a few scoops when another vehicle stopped to help. Then a second guy stopped. We used the tow rope I always carry and the second fellow pulled me out of the berm.
A few scratches and dings to my rig will be reminders of this harrowing experience.
Only 40 Days 'til the Birkie!
Posted January 10, 2011
I came back to the living late in the week. By Saturday I was feeling pretty good so I decided to join Jen and Ron for a ski at Izaak Walton Inn. It was almost an epic adventure.
I left home with the temp right at 32 degrees and the wind blowing a skiff of snow. Travel north was OK until I got through Browning, Montana. Heading west on US 2 from Browning it began to snow. It was not yet light and visibility was poor. The snow got heavy the the visibility decreased even more.
Coming up a long hill I spotted something dark in the road that was not moving. At first I thought it was a stalled vehicle but then I saw all the legs. Yep, there were about 20 horses smack dab in the middle of the road. Fortunately, with the heavy snow falling I was going slow enough to avoid those critters.
A little farther west things got worse. The snow was wet and the flakes were huge. Visibility occasionally reached zero and I considered turning around. Ahhh! There was no where to turn around safely anyway so I kept heading west. I went through East Glacier in a white out. Finally in the mountains the snow let up just enough for me to see where I was going. A little daylight helped some too.
Once at Izaak Walton Inn I discovered that the forecast overnight snow was mostly rain and the trails were pretty mushy and ungroomable. But now it was snowing hard -- those big wet flakes that pile up the inches quickly.
We decided to try skating hoping that the new snow would make things better but not be so deep as to make skating impossible. Things didn't quite work out that way but we all definitely got our exercise.
First let me replay this skiing sequence from a year or so ago.
Jen is skiing a nice relaxed V-1 on the Starlight trail. Poling as she steps onto a new gliding ski and pushed off with the other ski. After the pushoff her leg recoveres with a nice pendulum motion until it is under her hips. Well that is pretty much how it should be.
Not today though. The new heavy wet snow was about 2 inches deep in the valley near the trailhead but as we skied higher up the valley the fresh snow got deeper. Maybe 4 inches of wet heavy snow covered the trail up higher and it was snowing very hard. That would still have been fine for skating except that the roomed surface underneath was soft and mushy.
Transferring weight to the new ski caused that ski to immediately sink through the new snow and down into the mush. Glide, needless to say, was mostly nonexistent.
In order to ski at all we had to make some extreme modifications to our technique. As you can see here the nice relaxed recovery of the rear leg was impossible. Since that ski was buried in the mush it had to be lifted out of the snow. Glide was almost zero. It definitely was a challenge to maintain some semblance of good technique, to try to use a variety of techniques and to keep some forward momentum.
I always say, "Any skiing is better than no skiing!" The snow was beautiful and it continued falling hard. We challenged ourselves and still managed to have a pretty darn good time.
After about 12 kilometers though we came to the conclusion that:
- We had been out for almost 3 hours,
- We had skied for 2 hours (lots of breaks), and
- We had probably gotten 4 hours of exercise!
So we retreated to the lodge for lunch. As we were heading in we discovered that the close in Starlight trail was firmer under the new snow than the trails farther from the lodge. This was probably because that trail is groomed more frequently as the groomer has to run over it every time it goes out.
After lunch Ron and I stayed on that 1 km loop and skied laps. The skiing was much better but it still was a balance drill with the uneven firm surface hidden by the fresh snow. We skied during a moderate snowfall but after 5 laps the snow came down heavier and we retreated once again.
We had used up most of the daylight but with the heavy snow falling we didn't want to drive over the pass in the dark. So we dried off, packed up and headed out. Another interesting challenge. The first thing we encountered was a semi stopped in the middle of the road while the driver put on chains. Naturally he had to do this at a curve.
Later, in another curvy section, and with the snow still falling hard a car came up behind me pretty fast. I'm guessing he couldn't see me in the snow and my taillights were plastered and most likely not visible. At the last second the car pulled to my left and passed me on a narrow curving stretch just east of Marias Pass. Fortunately no one was coming the other way at the time.
One out of the mountains the road improved although the winds continued to make things interesting with snow blowing sideways the rest of the way home.
The next morning my garage was a lake with snow still falling off my rig. I swept water and shoveled snow out of the garage. All I can say is, "That's life in Montana!"
Only 47 Days 'til the Birkie!
Posted January 6, 2011
I had a wonderful Christmas and New Years that was highlighted by a visit from my daughter, son-in-law and grandson from Washington DC and my daughter and son-in-law from Shelby MT. Now I seem to be paying the price for all the happiness. I managed to come down with a good case of the flu. So I'm calling in sick this week and will return to posting next Monday.
In the meantime I hope all of you are enjoying a great ski season. Here in Montana the snow is perfect!
Only 51 Days 'til the Birkie!
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